Education as a tool for addressing the extinction crisis: Moving students from understanding to action
Human activity is leading to mass species extinctions worldwide. Conservation biology (CB) courses, taught worldwide at universities, typically focus on the proximal causes of extinction without teaching students how to respond to this crisis. The Extinction of Species 360 course has been taught yearly each fall semester to several hundred students at the University of Wisconsin-Madison for over two decades. In 2007 the instructor and five teaching assistants combined principles driving extinctions, based on traditional lectures and discussion sections, with action-oriented education targeting individual consumer habits, to a group of 285 students. Students learn the science underpinning conservation efforts, as evidenced by highly significant learning ( < .001) gains in a 22 question survey in every measured category, and also make direct and immediate changes in their lifestyle and consumption habits. This course succeeded in each of its three primary goals: a) informed students about the value of and threats to biodiversity, similar to traditional CB courses, b) emphasized our personal role (as consumers) in perpetuating the extinction crisis and c) facilitated activities to reduce our impact and help alleviate the crisis. The results suggested students learned CB concepts and understood biodiversity's value, increased their awareness of the connection between personal consumption and extinction, and reduced their collective ecological footprints. Furthermore, students complemented their learning and multiplied the potential for consumption reduction, by participating in action-based activities. Such academic courses can provide a rigorous treatment of the direct and indirect causes of extinction while developing a student's sense of personal empowerment to help slow the extinction crisis.
Keywords: action, conservation biology, consumption, environmental education, extinction, acción, biología de la conservación, consumo, educación ambiental, extinción